To say that the Internet as a medium differs from the media traditionally used as marketing channels is to state the obvious. However, key characteristics of the Internet continue to be side-lined by marketing planners, leading to less-effective online campaigns. I would identify the following characteristics of the Internet as of paramount importance to anyone planning an online campaign/website:
The Internet is a long-lived medium. Once a site is online, it’s possible to keep it there indefinitely at negligible cost. What is more, the longer a page is online, the better it is likely to perform in search engine rankings. And the more pages a site has, the more page views it is likely to get. Plan landing pages for the long term – landing pages that will continue to receive exposure after a banner campaign has run.
Note: If you’re hoping for traffic from Google, allow for the Sandbox Effect, whereby Google withholds newer sites, or sites it deems to be “cheating”, for a period of time. More Sandbox discussion here.
Everyone knows that an online campaign has an enormous potential reach. A handful of websites or online campaigns reach large numbers of Internet users within a short space of time through their virality alone, although most have to rely on other factors. Internet users are fickle, and it is nigh on impossible to guarantee virality (although smut and the misfortune of others seem to be fairly safe bets). As I noted above, the reach of a site/page increases over time. Make content “linkable” (especially for blogs) by providing content of interest and quality – this will increase the reach of your website more quickly as people discover the site and link to it.
It’s fine, and indeed advisable, to start with a “big bang” which generates a lot of traffic over a short space of time, be it a viral, banner, or online PR campaign, but over time “the long tail” will prove to account for a greater reach and larger number of visits/leads than the peaks. In the graph above the (ever-growing) volume under the long tail section is larger than in the „big bang“ section. The ideal would be to provide bigger bangs at regular intervals, building on what has already been achieved.
Reach and lifespan of a web campaign are inextricably linked, so I’ll say it again; plan (and budget) for the longer run.
The success of Internet campaigns can be more exactly quantified and qualified than those in any other medium. A media planner may tell us that a magazine has a circulation of so-and-so million, and focus group testing may tell us that a group of people found a certain visual attractive, but we can never know what happens when an advertisement is actually published in a magazine, at the face-to-page level.
The face-to-screen level offers other options. The detailed tracking possibilities of the Internet allow us to analyse the success of a campaign in an unparalleled clarity, and in “real-time”. An online marketing campaign should not be considered “fire-and-forget”, which is to say that those responsible should not put the campaign out of their minds after it is launched. Use the tracking possibilities inherent in the Internet to the fullest, and respond to the analysis of the results. (Again, plan and budget for the longer run.)
Which is where the flexibility that the Internet provides comes in. Hypertext documents and data are stored digitally and are delivered on-the-fly and on demand. They can be edited at any time (depending on the sleeping habits of the web-developer responsible). Respond to the analysis of an online marketing campaign by fine-tuning as required. Consider why the targets set are not being met sufficiently, and try something different. The Internet as a medium is conducive to a degree of trial and error – make use of this characteristic to refine a running campaign or website. It is a characteristic that only the online elements in the marketing mix contain, and it is fatal not to make use of it.